Trick or treat? Our Halloween myths and hoaxes round-up also highlights the real danger of virus-linked messages: Internet Scambusters #411
Halloween myths have a long history and many of these scary urban legends have been around for years.
In this issue, we look back on a couple of great Halloween hoaxes from the past as well as highlighting the most common stories in circulation today.
But a couple of nasty real tricks lurk amid the fun and the treats. You'll find them in your email inbox, as we explain.
Halloween Myths and Hoaxes Mix In with Spooky Email Viruses
It's time to turn down the lights, draw the drapes and huddle close as we prepare ourselves for another dose of Halloween myths and hoaxes.
For this is the time, as everyone knows, when mysterious events unfold and incidents defy explanation.
Or so we are told.
Probably more than any other day of the year, Halloween attracts tall tales, urban myths and legends -- ranging from recounting of omens, through stories of hauntings, to scary tales of space invasions.
Famous Halloween Hoaxes on Air
Yes, space invaders. Probably the greatest Halloween hoax of all time was the 1938 radio show which presented a series of spoof news reports, read by actor Orson Welles and based on the H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds, dramatizing a Martian invasion.
The broadcast caused widespread panic among listeners, some of whom only tuned in to the show partway through and others who simply didn't catch on to the hoax -- nor heard Welles's explanation at the end of the show.
Fourteen years later, another Halloween broadcast, produced by American Forces' Network in Germany, featured a reporter sent to investigate a 13th century castle said to be the home of Dr. Frankenstein.
Unknown to him, the director of the show had planted a ghoulish dummy in the castle crypt and when the reporter encountered it, in a live broadcast, he panicked and fainted.
You can still hear the Frankenstein Hoax broadcast today.
In more recent times, debates have become heated about TV shows purportedly featuring ghost hunters who have been accused of pulling a hoax.
One famous episode of the series Ghost Hunters, again filmed on Halloween, in which viewers see an investigator apparently yanked backwards by a ghost has been the subject of hoax claims.
Decide for yourself by watching Jacket Pull Debunk on YouTube.
Halloween Myths About Candy
As we reported in an earlier issue of Scambusters, 3 Creepy Halloween Urban Legends, Halloween myths abound claiming trick-or-treaters have been given poisoned candy.
There's no documented evidence of this ever happening (though a father allegedly once used this as a ruse to murder his son).
Another version of this Halloween myth reports that groups of terrorists have been buying up large quantities of candy to enable them to carry out mass poisonings.
Other scary urban legends about candy claim:
* Pins or razor blades have been inserted into candy and fruit (not totally discounted but it seems, at least in some cases, kids may have been doing this themselves to scare their parents).
* A man or a child eating a lollipop treat choked on it when the airbag of the car in which he was traveling inflated, knocking it down his throat.
One story that was true, though many believed it a hoax, was the recall of some chocolate coins that were found to contain a potentially harmful chemical, though this came about in the manufacturing process, not as a result of any malicious act.
Halloween Myths and Real Threats Via Email
Of course, as we might expect, the age of online communication has brought its own crop of Halloween linked urban myths.
Usually, these circulate via email, and contain some sort of deadly threat, which you are urged to pass on.
- The Blue Star tattoo -- a warning that criminals stick a tiny blue star or other tattoo laced with drugs onto the arms of trick-or-treaters.
This one, untrue, predates the Internet but is now seen in emails.
- The trick-or-treat virus -- supposedly a message with an attachment called "Trickor1" that, when clicked on, invites the victim to choose "trick-or-treat." Either way, your selection causes your hard drive to be wiped clean.
Although untrue, there are a couple of email-borne Halloween viruses out there that really will cause damage.
In one case, victims are invited to download a dancing skeleton, when they're really installing the "Storm" worm that, fittingly some might say, turns your PC into a botnet "zombie."
(For an explanation of botnets and zombie PCs check out this earlier Scambusters report, Spam Update: How You May Unknowingly Be Contributing to the Spam Problem.)
In another case, an email with a subject heading of something like "Happy Allhallowmas" contains a dangerous virus (nicknamed "Klez"), which really can wreak havoc on your PC, as well as mailing itself to everyone in your address book.
As we always stress, whether hoax or genuine, the best way to avoid the risk of a virus infection is to be cautious about clicking links inside emails or allowing any website you're not 100% sure of to install programs on your PC. It's just too risky.
More Halloween Myths and Hoaxes
Other common Halloween myths and hoaxes you may encounter this year include:
- Reports of brooms that stand upright on their bristles; this is an easy trick that merely relies on the skill of being able to balance the broom on the broad base created by its bristles.
- Gangs use this night for all sorts of blood-curdling initiation ceremonies. No evidence for this.
- Some types of face-paint are poisonous. Again, no evidence, though some Halloween costumes have been recalled in the past because they may have harmful chemicals in them.
- A psychic on a TV show (usually a big show like Oprah) has predicted a mass murder at a college. This has been around for years but still crops up regularly each Halloween.
- Visitors to a haunted house have been offered their money back if they can complete the tour, but no one ever has, and some have disappeared. The house has been supposedly located in many parts of the country -- but the story always comes from a friend of a friend.
Feeling suitably spooked? We hope so (not). As for us, we'll be curling up October 31st with Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew for our annual reading of Carolyn Keen's classic The Halloween Hoax. Just can't get enough of those Halloween myths!
That's all we have for today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!